This summer the Reyes-Acosta family decided it was time to get outside again. Though they had grown up an active family, it had been 20 years since Frances and her daughters, Dani and Kika, had recreated together.

Their journey with Achieve Tahoe started in 2019, when Dani volunteered as a winter snowsports instructor. “My mother has progressive multiple sclerosis, and it’s always been my dream to give her the gift of recreation that she gave me,” Dani said. By volunteering with Achieve Tahoe, Dani learned how to help her mother rediscover the adventurous activities she had always loved.

An Achieve Tahoe volunteer teaching Frances (center) and Dani (right) how to hold a kayak paddle

After a year of separation due to the pandemic, the Reyes-Acosta ladies resolved to reunite in 2021 and signed up for two full days of Achieve Tahoe’s summer activities. While hiking, Frances used the GRIT Freedom Chair (a rugged wheelchair that provides independent off-road access) to go off the beaten path, exploring trails and seeing sites around Lake Tahoe that had previously been inaccessible to her. At Sierra Summer Sports on Donner Lake, the whole family kayaked and paddled in an outrigger canoe for the first time.*

“Participating as a family was a great motivator for me,” said Frances. “I have multiple sclerosis. My grown children and I don’t often have opportunities to get together. This will be a fond memory. My daughters got a chance to experience and applaud my progress. This memory tags onto how they remember me jogging on the beach, swimming in the ocean, camping, and skiing. It was an opportunity to say it’s all here, I’m all here, and I’m ready to move forward. The use of the GRIT Freedom Chair…made the experience all the more exciting because I did it by myself to keep up with my family. I loved that I was able to ‘show off’ health and mobility. This could be a steppingstone to other activities.”

Dani (left), Frances (center in GRIT Freedom Chair), and Kika (right) hiking in the Tahoe National Forest
Kika (front), Frances (center), and Dani (back) in the outrigger canoe with the Kawai’ulu ‘O Tahoe Outrigger Canoe Club

“It was such a great experience and gave us the opportunity to gather as a family and do activities that were new to us as a group,” said Kika. “Getting to paddle the outrigger canoe together and be on the open water with my mom was a surprise and delight.”

Dani was especially grateful that the outrigger canoe allowed her mother to reconnect with her heritage as a Pacific Islander. “It was great how the local community was involved … it connected Achieve Tahoe to the community and added in a cultural element that was beyond what you would normally expect in outdoor recreation,” she said.

Now, Frances, Dani, and Kika are reinvigorated to reconnect outdoors regularly.

“With the confidence and support of Achieve Tahoe, we were able to get on the water together safely and have fun,” said Kika. “We enjoyed it so much, we talked about doing it annually!”

“I work with several organizations that advocate for people that live with all types of disability,” said Frances. “At Achieve Tahoe I witnessed the diversity, equality, and inclusion of teachers and more importantly, students involved. This program offers an introduction and/or opportunity for people to learn that ‘YES I CAN’ … I’m thankful for it all.”

Dani (left), Kika (center), and Frances (right) enjoying a mid-hike tea break

If you’d like to keep up with what the Reyes-Acostas are up to, check out Dani’s instagram, @notlostjustdiscovering.

All photos in the this story were taken by Andrew Lizotte in collaboration with Deuter USA.

*Achieve Tahoe would like to thank the Kawai’ulu ‘O Tahoe Outrigger Canoe Club for their partnership.